From Belarus With Love: BATE – Barça

CL Preview: BATE Borisov – FC Barcelona, 2:45pmEST Fox Deportes and Fox Sports Affiliate HD

In 1998, a small football club based around automotive factories in the Belarusian city of Barysaw signed a 17-year old player from Minsk. They promoted him in 1999 to the first team and the team promptly won their first ever league title in just their second year in the top flight. That player, an integral part of their title run, was promptly duly snapped up a year later by Stuttgart and the career of one Aliaksandr Paulavich Gleb, better known in the West as Alexander Hleb, went into overdrive. 11 years later the owner of his contract–Spanish club FC Barcelona, if you’ve heard of them–travel to Barysaw to face BATE Borisov in a Champions League group stage match.

For his part, Hleb, who is playing on loan at German club Wolfsburg, is rooting for…you guessed it, BATE Borisov.  On the surface that’s a completely outlandish thing to say: Barça pays the bills and he might be reincorporated into the squad in January if Wolfsburg doesn’t want to continue his loan beyond December; if you’d like to engender even more negative feelings between yourself and your club, that seems a pretty straight forward way to do it. “I cheer for the teams that play my employers.” But then again, it is his youth team and he’s not actually playing for Barça right now and, most importantly, he seems to be saying that he’s got so little faith in BATE actually winning that he can root for them without the least bit of guilt. “I can see them maybe getting a point,” he said.

It’s still a strange thing to say, of course.

BATE comes in on the back of something like infinity plus one consecutive league championships. They’ve won the Belarusian Premier League for the last 5 years (2006-10) and currently lead the standings by 11 points with 7 matches left to play. Remember, as an Eastern European team, they play between April and November to avoid the winter as much as possible. The previous time they were in the Champions League they were in Real Madrid’s Group H in the 2008-09 edition. They ended with 3 points from 3 draws and 3 losses, pulling off 2 draws against Juventus and one against Zenit St. Petersburg. With their draw against Viktoria Plzeň, they’ve shown themselves still capable of earning points in the CL.

Basically: beware the draw in Belarus. They may not be able to garner 3 points, but they can take 2 away from you.

Barça’s squad list: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Fàbregas, Puyol, Xavi, Villa, Messi, Thiago, Mascherano, Keita, Busquets, Pedro, Maxwell, Adriano, Abidal, Fontàs, Cuenca, and Dos Santos.

Side question: do you think Valdés and Piqué have banded their acute accents together in a diacritical fight to the death with Fàbregas and Fontàs, who staunchly support the grave accent mark party? I think so. And do you think that Victor and Gerard yell at Andreu about it during matches? I can’t imagine anything else happening.

So, while BATE might have 11 Hlebs to field–shudder–we have a secret weapon. One that will prove all the naysayers wrong and create magical moments of brilliant art on the field with sweeping moves and well-timed tackles. Yeah, I’m talking about the superstar bench-warmer in the making, Jonathan dos Santos. No doubt Cesc’s presence in the squad has limited his playing options, but I think it’s probably true that JDS has limited JDS’s playing options via late night hooker parties and a general career disorganization (including keeping his father around as an agent and spokesman).

Predicted lineup [updated with proper number of players]: Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Busi, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Messi, Villa. That leaves Pep with the ability to attack and also put on Thiago, Mascherano, and Adriano as subs. Or, I suppose, Cuenca and JDS if we’re up 80-0.

Official Prediction: 0-3, Barça. Goals by Messi (2), and Piqué. I know I said beware the draw, but I think this team will have its head on right after that mauling of Atleti and will not want to leave any more of this group stage up to chance than they absolutely have to.

Other stuff: 

Manuel Gräfe will be the referee in what I believe will be his second ever Champions League match. He previously reffed last year’s 0-0 draw between Panathinaikos and Rubin Kazan (one of the matches in Barça’s group) and now takes over this match. If BATE lose, I’m sure Jose Mourinho will claim that Gräfe, like all referees, favors Barça because of the Qatar Foundation logo on the front. The thing is, though, Gräfe was one of the guys who went to the DFB (German FA) with information regarding the 2005 Bundesliga scandal, so it’s unlikely that QF has so muddled his brain that he’s going to lay the game at Barça’s doorstep. Unless it is all subliminal and only Mourinho can resist it. Holy crumpets, Batman, I just realized how it all works!

In the end, though, obviously the only reasonable explanation is that

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. “Predicted lineup: Valdés, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Busi, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Messi, Villa.”
    Dang, we must be good if we’re gonna win 0-3 playing a man down.
    You can delete this after fixing, I don’t mind, dear 🙂

    1. That’s because Valdés will be playing in the backline in a new role as a “false goalkeeper”. 🙂

    2. I read that Johan Cruyff seriously toyed with the idea, but eventually decided it was simply too crazy for even his wildest possession fantasies.

    3. Yeah – it would have worked in the manita against Madrid at Camp Nou last season, because Madrid hardly got near the Barca goal!

  2. JDS is still mi gallo.

    Isn’t Piqué a Catalan name? Why isn’t that accent mark backwards? I don’t get it.

    1. I dont know squat about Catalan but maybe it’s something to do with it being above the letter “e” and the sound it makes? Soy latina but my parents never taught me the rules for acentos and I never paid attention in Spanish class either…so in reality this comment no te sirve para nada lol.

    2. Awww, thanks anyway. Yo sé las reglas de acentos en español/castellano but I don’t get the backwards thingy majiggy. It seems like they’re used to mark the stressed vowel in words when they break a rule, but are all accent marks just backwards in Catalan? Where’s Jordi/poipoi when you need them?

    3. e, è and é all have different pronunciations:

      Pique: Pic or peak
      Piquè: Pic-eh
      Piqué: Pic-aye Pic-ey

      It’s really hard to give examples.

      It’s like pokémon. Po-kay-mon.

      I think I’m not making any sense at all…

  3. Well, looks like Balotelli will see time after all. Bye, bye Tevez…wouldn’t be surprised if EE picks him up with their scoring issues and losing confidence in Di Maria.

    1. I neither agree nor disagree with you on the Tevez situation…

      I think this is an ethical issue
      and neither party can be judged
      without undermining the other.

      Every player should respect his
      manager, play for the team and
      remember that (Ideally) all
      players are equal in a team. So, i
      don’t disagree with people
      suggesting that he’s a disgrace (Tevez).

      Every player (or person) needs
      to be valued in a team, needs
      recognition for his efforts and
      never ever want to feel like he’s
      expendable. Tevez was recently
      striped off his captaincy, after
      bringing this club to the very
      same competition they are
      trying to win, and then
      relegated to the bench. How do
      u do that to a player. Don’t they
      think he can still score goals? or
      they think any player could have
      done what he did for them? So
      now they only want to play him
      in a game already lost (ya i
      know about dramatic
      comebacks) to what? Depreciate
      his ability standard? I knw he
      claims to hav been mentally
      imbalanced at the time but
      either way, the club is not fair
      to him. The guy doesn’t hate
      playing for city (i think he
      proved that), he wants to leave
      for family reasons.

      Hypothetically, imagine barca
      buying Some top-class player
      (eg. Ronaldo) and start benching
      Messi, strip him off of his captaincy and play him when
      they lose after all he has done.

      So, Tevez or Mancini? I can’t say

    2. Spot On, buddy. If there is one person I will blame, then it has to be Mancini. It was clear that Tevez want to go away. Mancini had so much option with him in attacking that he wouldn’t miss him for the entire season. Still he decided to toughen out and teach Tevez a lesson. That was risky as what happened last night was bound to happen. may be it happened much earlier than everyone anticipated. Mancini shoudl have sold Tevez when he had the chance and I would only blame Mancini for the same.

    3. But Mancini didn’t have the chance to sell Tevez. I might be wrong, but I don’t think there were any offers for him this summer.

  4. Welcome back, but this preview really isn’t doing much for me, sorry. Understand you love dropping in Hleb’s and what he said really is quite funny, but the actual preview of the match doesn’t have anything insightful or much team/game analysis – my 2 cents.

    Anyway, lets hope for a win eh? – I’m going 3-0 Barca in a relatively cruisey affair.

    1. We will ever see my sleep-easy backline of Pique, Puyol, Mascherano, and Abidal? That’s all I want for Christmas.

      So good they could even stop the Greece debt crisis.

    2. Puyol has played right back a lot in his previous life. He used to be a right back for living before he became El Capitan.

    3. He actually played a lot more advanced on the field than as a Right Back… but yes, you are correct in recent terms.

      Also Blitzen stated Pique, not Puyol.

      So to summarise: You were suggesting:

      LB: Abidal
      CB: Mash
      CB: Pique
      RB: Puyol.

      Good-day 🙂

    4. I think its not possible to come up with realistic match analysis without being boringly repetitive when one of the two teams is completely unknown to analyze and the other is so very well known and over-analyzed game in game out.

      At least he didn’t use a Hleb impression as a post doormat as some others did! So, feel fortunate.

  5. Hleb, you’ve burned the bridge so many times with your comments. There are no more bridge to be burned. So please stop talking.

  6. Wow, so now every counter attack goal anyone scores in automatically labeled as ‘orgasmic’
    Damn, we’ve got some serious lack of adjectives in the world!

  7. And also I think it is astounding that a malcontent, unprofessional wimp like Tevez is revered in Argentina while Messi the personification of professionalism and work ethic is jeered..
    I petition that we live in bizarro world after all…

  8. I neither agree nor disagree with you guys about the issue of Tevez…

    I think this is an ethical issue and neither party can be judged without misreading the situation.

    Every player should respect his manager, play for the team and remember that (Ideally) all players are equal in a team. So, i don’t disagree with people suggesting that he’s a disgrace (Tevez).

    Every player (or person) needs to be valued in a team, needs recognition for his efforts and never ever want to feel like he’s expendable. Tevez was recently striped off his captaincy, after bringing this club to the very same competition they are trying to win. How do u do that to a player.

    So, Tevez or Mancini? I hav no idea

    1. You do it when
      a. Said ‘captain’ tries to force his way out by submitting a transfer request.
      b. lives in England for 5 years and yet refuses to learn english so as to be able to communicate more effectively
      c. constantly bitches and moans about the weather..he’s getting 15 mill a year..for that money you should pretty well not only live and love the weather, you better tattoo on your head that it is the best weather in the world.

      Either way it has been abundantly clear that what Tevez is doing is entirely unprofessional and unethical and in doing whatever he is right now, he is ruining his team’s morale and therefore, its chances of making it in the competition that he ‘brought the team to’

  9. On another note…

    I’m Sorry that Villareal lost, spanish teams should play well at the champions league
    to Well-represent La Liga.

    So if there are cules who felt sad when Madrid won, i think (and i stand corrected) that we are
    taking the rivalry too far. Let them win, we rather beat them in the finals. We don’t need to lose a champions league spot to another league, that would be a disappointment.

    Unless if i don’t understand how
    UEFA coefficients work

    1. which is why there is such a debate over the tv revenue and the way the league is run, Villarreal had to make sacrifices to balance the books and now they are struggling. It reflects on the whole league in terms of europe, not just Villareal.

  10. Like i said, i’m not overlooking your facts, i’m just saying that both parties hav their respectable sides. He’s done some “not so good things” and they hav as well.

    Don’t crucify one party

    1. Why not? just because you like tevez?
      He refused to enter, he should be crucified and ridiculed.
      He gets paid tons of money to be available to his coach whenever hes called.

      It has to be noted , that tevez has had this kind of attitude since forever. One more reason to be severely punished.

    2. I agree with mei. Whatever issues there are between Tevez and Mancini, and I’m sure there is blame on both sides, that does not excuse what he did. Refusing to enter a game, a CL game especially, is despicable. He didn’t just let down his manager, he let down his teammates, people who were relying on him to do his best for them. Can you even imagine Xavi refusing to enter the field? Or Villa, or Pedro? I don’t think even Ibra would do something like that.

      I admit to feeling a bit sorry for Tevez. He was obviously stuck somewhere he didn’t want to be and wasn’t able to get an exit this summer. That sucks. This strikes me as the last desperate act of a man who wasn’t smart enough to find another way out.

      Compare it to what Mascherano did last summer, where he refused to be called up for a Liverpool game as a way of pushing through his transfer to Barcelona. It took me a long time to forgive him for that. But at least he made his intentions clear before the game, so he wasn’t put on the game roster. He didn’t refuse to go onto the field in the middle of a game that still might have been salvaged, in the process letting down people who might reasonably have expected him to care about the result of the game.

    3. He’s stuck in that place because he went for the money. No sympathy.
      No sympathy either for Mascherano, who basically did the same although not as dramatically.

  11. Classy clarification of Pep concerning his relation to and the relation between Laporta and Rosell…

    1. Lol..

      I dont think sandrusco will enjoy pep saying that he and laporta are same sides of the same coin..

  12. Damn, Isaiah, you write a lame preview, which contains only boring jokes, no analysis, no content, a predicted lineup has players missing because they were eaten up by some liveblob AND on top of that Hleb us all?!?!!?!

    It’s good to see you back! 🙂

    1. Agreed. Tactical discussions are great, but sometimes I just need a little bit of nonsense to brighten my day.

      Speaking of that – come liveblog with me this afternoon!

  13. I’ve seen this long before, but maybe some of you haven’t seen this.

    Apart from the odd injury, the worst thing for Cesc is the lack of titles he’s won with Arsenal. A 2004 Community Shield and the FA Cup in 2005 are all that he’s won. In Europe, Arsenal’s best season was 2005/06, when they reached the final of the Champions League, losing 2-1 against FC Barcelona with Cesc in their line-up.

    from Cesc’s profile page at FCB official website.
    the gooners won’t like that written on our website, “arrogant bastard” they say 😛


    I know nothing about BATE except they Hlebbed the world with a certain guy named Hleb. in a game like this, it could be 1-1 or 1-0 or 0-6. I have no idea.

  14. Looking forward to the match. Wish I knew something more about this opponent as opposed to the historical Hleb connection. Not be critical to Isaiah…does anyone know anything about them?? I have to confess to being completely ignorant as to style of player, formation, key players, etc. I almost forget these Eastern European clubs exists until it comes crashing (literally sometimes) into our CL group matches. I went to their website, once I found it… it has a .by extension Not very enlightening.

    I found the comments of their midfielder Fillip Rudik in the press conference detailed over at TotalBarca funny. He said he was excited about the match because he “never met people from another planet before”. When pressed on strategy he said “we’ll try to kick the ball out of play and hope for the best” – that is funny, and VERY calm with a clear “nothing to lose” kind of an attitude… which makes me nervous, especially since it seems that whenever we go into matches with teams from Eastern Europe it is often a real slog. I suspect we’ll be ok… I just find these matches often cause me an apprehension from pure fear of the unknown. Which can be more fun than watching someone I know well, and am sure we can pick apart at their weaknesses.

    1. It’s going around. The big teams are in an arms race. Mancini said yesterday the problem was that he didn’t have enough players. And he wasn’t joking. Sad part is, he might be right. Meaning not “players” but “star players who can turn a match on its end.”

      Even Bayern, as well as they are playing, are going to come up against a real top side and get their butts whipped, unless something extraordinary happens.

    2. I’d disagree with that Bayern sentiment. I think this is the year they shock people and make a run..if they get in the final somehow they’ve got a huge advantage.

      They’ve conceded what..once in ten games or so?

    3. Bayern was not so lucky with the injuries of Robben and Ribery in the last couple of seasons (except 2010 CL final)

  15. Barcastuff via spots–alexis sanchez to be back in three weeks,probabaly oct.15 vs racing satander…..thats gewd news

    1. We have to have some of the best physios in the business because our players always seem to recover ahead of time! Great news 🙂

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